Post-Brexit Consumer Advice – Buying online from the UK in 2021 and beyond

When consumers buy cross-border from a trader based within the EU they can avail of certain guaranteed consumer rights. When buying from the UK, now a third country, even though UK consumer law is based on EU consumer legislation, Irish consumers may not be automatically entitled to the same rights they enjoy in the EU.

There are a lot of things to watch out for when shopping online at any time and from any trader. However, Brexit made things more complicated when shopping in/from the UK, so there are some extra precautions you should take. The main thing to remember is that EU consumer legislation has been transposed into the national legislation of Member States, including the UK well before Brexit, and so you should be able to rely on those rights even if there is a problem with your purchase after Brexit. However, in some cases, consumers may experience difficulties availing of those rights and seeking redress.


Returns and Cancellations

First of all, when you buy online from a trader based in the EU you have the right to change your mind, for most online purchases (exceptions do apply); this is known as the 14-day cooling off period. You have 14 calendar days, from the day you receive the good(s) to tell the trader that you wish to avail of this right and get a full refund. Then you have to return the good(s) to the trader no later than 14 days from the date that you informed the trader of your decision to cancel the contract.

When you use the right to cancel, you are in principle required to cover the direct cost of returning the good(s), unless otherwise agreed, or if the trader failed to inform you that you must bear this cost. It is a legal requirement for traders to provide this information so it’s important to look for it in the terms and conditions. If in doubt and, especially for purchases from the UK, you may consider checking with the trader before placing an order. The trader’s willingness to respond and put your mind at rest (by confirming the returns policy) may be a good indication of their level of customer service.

Pay special attention to the terms and conditions (e.g. returns and cancellation policy) as these may be particularly relevant in case of difficulty with the law applicable to the contract. You should also consider the logistics of returning a product, particularly if it is bulky, and if there will be extra costs. You also need to know what after-sales service (if any) will be available to customers in the Republic of Ireland if the item purchased from the UK turns out to be faulty (e.g. will you have to bring the good(s) back yourself for repair/replacement or will someone be sent to collect/fix it?).

Many times, defective products sold in Ireland are sent to the UK for repairs if the manufacturer does not have authorised service centres in Southern Ireland or if the retailer does not provide a third-party repair service either. If there is a dispute as to what repairs are necessary and where they will be effected, a different set of rules apply and additional difficulties may arise when seeking redress from a UK retailer or manufacturer. Make sure you check the terms and conditions to find out what to do if there is a problem with a defective product.


Faulty Goods and Warranties 

If you decide to buy a product from the UK , you should be able to rely on the same standard of consumer rights as in the EU because UK consumer legislation is currently in line with EU legislation. Nevertheless, it is advisable to double check the relevant terms and conditions relating to the return and refund of defective products, directly with the UK seller/manufacturer and in writing. You should also check what redress options are given to Irish customers when a problem like this occurs.

Some products, especially electronics or ‘white goods’, also come with a seller or manufacturer guarantee/warranty, which is in addition to your statutory right to a repair or replacement when the good(s) is not in conformity (e.g. faulty). If you are given this then you should also check if the guarantee/warranty will apply to customers in Ireland, for how long, and what exactly is covered.


Extra Cross-Border Charges

Currently, when you buy from a trader based outside the EU, including the UK, there are extra charges that may apply: import duties, customs charges, etc. Therefore, your purchase may cost more than you thought. According to the Irish Revenue Commissioners, if you buy goods from a trader based outside the EU and later return the item, you may be able to claim a refund of the Customs Duty and VAT.

You can find more information about the importation procedure and the required documentation by visiting Revenue and National Car Testing Service (NCTS). Revenue also provides further information about the potential VAT and VRT implications of trade with the UK post-Brexit.


UK Brand – Ireland Retailer 

If you buy a product from a UK brand/manufacturer from a website or physical store in the Republic of Ireland, your contract is with that Irish shop/retailer store and, therefore, any request for redress (for example, repair, replacement, or refund) should be made directly to them, not the UK brand/manufacturer. In such cases, your consumer rights are guaranteed under EU consumer legislation, even if the owner of the chain or the headquarters of the brand is based in the UK.

In this particular case only, if you are resident in Ireland and have a dispute with the UK brand retailer based in Ireland, you should contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission for advice.


Complaints and Redress

When a problem occurs you can try to avail of consumer rights enshrined in UK legislation, which, for the time being, are very similar to EU consumer legislation. If the product you purchased was actively promoted in the Republic of Ireland, the UK seller is also bound by EU consumer rights legislation. Nevertheless, this is not an automatic guaranteed right, and it is better that you do your research before you make a purchase.

If you get into difficulty in dealing with or obtaining redress from a UK seller, you have two options:

  • Chargeback – if you paid using a secure method of payment such as a credit/debit card. Contact your bank or credit card provider to see if your particular issue (e.g. non-delivery) is covered by chargeback. PayPal also has a payment protection scheme.
  • European Consumer Centre Ireland – get information about your rights and what options may/may not be available in your particular case. This includes an assessment of whether it’s actually possible for us to liaise with the UK trader on your behalf.